The Age of Shiva
By Manil Suri Norton / 455 pages / $25
The second novel from University of Maryland Baltimore County mathematics professor Manil Suri follows Meera Sawhney from her unhappy 1950s marriage to aspiring singer Dev Arora through to her own son's coming of age.
After an impulsive act forces Meera's marriage at 17, her complex, controlling father decries her tying herself (and her family) to the provincial, lower-class Aroras. Meera soon finds herself pulled in different directions by her in-laws' religious orthodoxy, her father's progressivism, her husband's alcoholism and her resentment. She finds salvation in the birth of a son, Ashvin; mother love, which Suri describes in intensely physical terms, gives her life passion and purpose and overwhelms her adult relationships. But as India modernizes, Meera senses that Ashvin, and she herself, must live their own lives.
Suri renders Meera's perspective marvelously, especially in small particulars (such as Meera's deliberations around the cutting of Ashvin's hair) and in the perils and conflicts Meera faces in her relationships with men. He also takes a close look at Hindu practices and charts the rise of religious nationalism in the years following the death of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who led India to independence. Suri's vivid portrait of a woman in post-independence India engages timeless themes of self-determination.
By April Smith Knopf / 318 pages / $24
In two previous thrillers, FBI Special Agent Ana Grey stalked criminals through the neighborhoods around Santa Monica, Calif., where she'd been raised by her grandfather.
The third novel in the series by April Smith, Judas Horse, also begins in Los Angeles, but its narrative propels Ana out of her native territory into a dizzying new world. This time the bureau is sending her on an undercover assignment to infiltrate a terrorist cell in the Pacific Northwest. The agent previously assigned to the case, a golden boy of the department named Steve Crawford, with whom Ana was once romantically involved, has been blown to bits by a bomb detonated on a remote alpine trail in the Oregon Cascades. Ana's job is to find out who killed him.
It's been only seven months since Ana was caught up in a devastating shooting incident and she's still recovering. But the news of her colleague's murder energizes her to seek justice.
After a rigorous stint in undercover school at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., Ana assumes a new identity: that of a scruffy, down-and-out animal rights sympathizer named Darcy DeGuzman. Armed only with a phony driver's license and a specially designed Oreo-sized cell phone, she heads to Portland to begin her mission.
Los Angeles Times
My Enemy's Cradle By Sara Young Harcourt / 384 pages / $24
The Nazis' ghastly death machinery is widely known; its birth industry is seldom spoken of.
Lebensborn was Heinrich Himmler's secret project to use certain young women to help increase the population and breed a purer race.
The program began in 1935 with German women who would have blond, blue-eyed children, often by SS officers. Later it included kidnappings of fair-haired girls, especially from Poland, for the same purpose.
My Enemy's Cradle is a novel about a young woman with those Aryan looks (but a secret half-Jewish identity) who becomes ensnared in the plan.
When crackdowns began against Europe's Jews, Cyrla's father had sent her away from Poland to live in Amsterdam with her Dutch relatives.
Now 19 but still naive, Cyrla shuns warnings and behaves with youthful impetuousness. Nothing turns out as she expects.
She finds herself trapped in a Lebensborn maternity home. The rescue she's expecting doesn't materialize, and Cyrla spends week after week fearing discovery, trying to determine whom to trust, striving for some normalcy, and hoping.
This is a book that lands squarely in the category of "good story."